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Homosexuality

[Excerpt from an upcoming book. Title as yet undecided.]

Now, into the breach!, to the issue of universal controversy: homosexuality. The Hebrew laws against homosexuality (Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13) specify that a man “shall not lie with another man as with a woman.” This phrasing seems to refer to anal intercourse as opposed to oral or manual. Let us begin there.

Returning to our desert people with poor hygiene, why might anal sex be banned? it does not take much imagination to come to an understanding of the rapid spread of diseases caused by anal sex without the benefit of hot and cold in-house running water and ample supplies of antimicrobial soap. I feel no need to go into the gruesome details. This is simply not a factor in our day and place. Despite the stigma of HIV as a “gay disease”, it is not homosexuality which passes diseases around; it is heedless promiscuity and the objectification of oneself and others (leading to lack of care in sexual hygiene) which spreads sexually-transmitted diseases today. Loving, committed homosexual couples are no more a moral problem than responsible pet ownership or—I’ll be flayed alive for this comparison in some circles—loving, committed heterosexual couples.

Other Hebrew Bible passages often used to condemn homosexuals are the stories of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19-29) and the Levite’s concubine (Judges 19:1-20). The latter is a much simpler tale (though no more gruesome), and can be dealt with simply: lack of hospitality is bad, but violent rape (of man or woman, by men or women) is very bad. The horror of the story is compounded by the callous treatment of a woman by the Levite, followed by his carving her up to serve as an example to others who lack hospitality (as if that were the greatest crime of the Benjamanites!). Let us summarize the moral of this hideous tale: Rape and murder are wrong! Now onward.

“Sodomy” is often used as a legal and cultural term intended to bludgeon people with the “evil of homosexuality”. In truth, however, Sodom and Gomorrah where not destroyed merely for harboring homosexuals. The narrative itself simply tells us of God responding first to a general “outcry” by sending angels to investigate, rescue the righteous of the area (which turned out to amount to only one family, that of Lot, his wife, and their daughters), and then to destroy it once these steps had been taken.

The Sodomites saw these angels, who appeared as (likely attractive) men, and not only did they not offer them food and beds, they actively tried to rape them! The crimes of Sodom, then, were greed, violence, lack of charity, and rape—the supreme act of human objectification. Lot went so far as to offer to the Sodomites the bodies of his own daughters in order to save the two strangers. The angels of God, not being ones to allow young women to be raped in their stead, put a stop to the whole proceeding by blinding the Sodomites just in time to circumvent violence, and made Lot and company abscond to yon mountains while Sodom was judged and sentenced.

Before I move forward, I would like to make an important point. Some may interpret the above to imply that the Hebrew purity laws were not “God-given”. In fact, that is the view of many liberal Jews, Christians, and secularists: the purity laws were totally man-made, and were put into God’s mouth either by tradition, or a need to legitimize them on the part of the clergy. More conservative elements of the faith community, however, state that not only are these laws the words of God Himself, but that they are therefore immutable and eternal laws. Why, then, do we Christians not follow the vast majority of them?

In answer, many Christians have looked to a middle way: the Law is certainly God’s Law, but laws change. It is not we who get to change them, but they are still dynamic. Jesus himself pointed to this fact multiple times, such as His pronouncement in Mark 2:27, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath[.]” All of the laws and commandments, in fact, exist for us and for creation, not as arbitrary dictates of a cosmic tyrant. A Jewish friend of mine put it thus: the Law exists to preserve life and to encourage love. Whenever it gets in the way of those things, it must be suspended. It seems, then, likely to me that God would give us laws to protect us from certain avoidable dangers, rather than just to give us “holy busywork”.

It is easy to move forward from here to the New Testament. Even a cursory reading of the Gospels shows that Jesus had little or nothing to say on the subject. That silence proves nothing on its own, and likely means that as a first-century Jew, he did not have to answer the question. It just wasn’t that pressing. Still, given his track record, I have a feeling that Jesus would have rebuked us for our judgments, had dinner with that nice lesbian couple on the next street over, and had done with it.

That sort of approach, though, is never enough for modern Christians, and it wasn’t enough for first-century Christians either, which is why Paul had to say a few words.

Paul specifically condemned a lot of things. He mentioned homosexuality in 1 Corinthians 6:9, and again in Romans 1:18-29. According to Gordon Atkinson, preacher at Covenant Baptist Church, lover of New Testament Greek, and all around swell guy, the words used by Paul do not translate simply as “homosexual”, but instead refer less generally to young make prostitutes, and the older men who frequent them (a topic designed for daytime talk TV if ever there was one).* The picture painted here is not one of homosexuality, but of promiscuity and human objectification. And that about does it for the biblical sources. The rest is up to human prejudice and our devilish tendency toward Justice miscarried and aborted late-term.

*http://reallivepreacher.com/node/868

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  1. July 22, 2011 at 12:00 pm

    Thank you for this intelligent and well written article. The more people who speak intelligently on this subject, the better it will be for everyone. The gay community suffers too much from religious polemics, but I think that the zealous will suffer more for what they are doing to themselves in the process. Intelligent discourse will lead to acceptance eventually, and ultimately save people from themselves.

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